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What are my rights if the police stop me when I’m driving?

Question
What are my rights if the police stop me when I’m driving?

Glossary

Clear language definitions to common legal terms. 

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Reviewed: 
October, 2016
Answer

If the police see you break a traffic law or have reasons to believe you’ve committed a criminal offence, they may ask you to pull over and stop your car. They may investigate you.

Traffic laws are explained in the Highway Traffic Act. This Act gives police the power to get you to pull over so they can check that:

  • you have a driver’s licence
  • your vehicle is in good working order
  • your vehicle is properly insured

You must show the police your:

  • driver’s licence
  • vehicle registration
  • proof of insurance for the vehicle

Passengers

Unless the police have reasonable grounds to believe that your passengers are involved in a criminal offence, your passengers don’t have to tell the police who they are.

Stunts and racing

If the police have reasonable grounds to believe you’ve been performing a stunt or racing, they can take away your car and driver’s licence. You won’t get your car back for at least 7 days, and your licence will be suspended for 7 days. You have to pay storage fees to get your car back.

Drinking alcohol and driving

If the police suspect you’ve been drinking alcohol and driving, they can demand that you do a breath test and a Standardized Field Sobriety Test at the roadside. The Standardized Field Sobriety Test includes physical co-ordination exercises. For example, you may be asked to stand on one leg or walk in a straight line.

Depending on the results of the breath test, the police can take away your car and suspend your driver’s licence. They can also demand that you go to the police station for a breathalyzer test.

Taking drugs and driving

If the police suspect you’ve been taking drugs and driving, they can demand that you do a Standardized Field Sobriety Test. This test includes physical co-ordination exercises. For example, you may be asked to stand on one leg or walk in a straight line. The police can also demand that you go to the police station for drug evaluation tests.

1. Show the police your driving documents

If the police stop your vehicle, you must show them:

  • your driver’s licence
  • vehicle registration
  • proof of insurance for the vehicle

You don’t have to say anything to the police. Just show them the documents. Anything you say to the police can be used as evidence if you're charged with a criminal offence.

If you don’t show the police your documents, you can be charged with a provincial offence under the Highway Traffic Act. It is a provincial offence to not show the police proof of insurance for the vehicle.

Reviewed: 
November, 2016

2. Remain silent

You have the right to remain silent. This is a protection under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. In most situations, you don’t have to answer any questions the police ask you. Anything you say to the police may be used as evidence.

Exception for a motor vehicle accident

If you’re in a motor vehicle accident you may be required by law to give a statement to the police. This statement is called an accident report. You are required by law to give police the information necessary to complete the report.

Your accident report cannot be used against you as self-incriminating evidence, but making an untrue statement is an offence under the Highway Traffic Act. Also, if you lie to the police, you can be charged with obstructing justice.

Reviewed: 
November, 2016
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3. Talk to a lawyer before agreeing to have the police search your car

Police are allowed to check your driver’s licence, vehicle registration, and proof of insurance. They are also allowed to look into the windows of your vehicle. If it’s nighttime, they may use a flashlight to help them see.

They aren’t allowed to search your vehicle unless:

If the police ask you to let them search your vehicle, you don’t have to agree. You have the right to say no. It’s a good idea to insist on talking to a lawyer before you decide whether to let the police search your car.

If you don’t know a lawyer or can’t afford one, you can contact Legal Aid Ontario. Legal Aid Ontario pays lawyers known as duty counsel to give free legal advice. This advice is available 24 hours a day.

Reviewed: 
November, 2016
You May Also Need
Learn more about this topic
Office of the Independent Police Review Director
Office of the Independent Police Review Director
Metro Toronto Chinese & Southeast Asian Legal Clinic

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